OUR OPINION: Strengthen extracurriculars to help prevent drug use

There are no guarantees. There are only odds; and when it comes to teens and drug abuse, Americans don't know how to pull the odds all the way down to zero.


There are no guarantees. There are only odds; and when it comes to teens and drug abuse, Americans don't know how to pull the odds all the way down to zero.

But we do know how to reduce those odds-that is, how to make it less likely for a given teen to start abusing drugs.

One of those ways is through offering strong extracurricular activities and encouraging young people to take part.

And that's a practical approach that parents throughout the valley can focus on, now that ferociously destructive opioid addictions are showing up in area schools.

As most sports and theater parents likely would agree, structured and challenging extracurricular activities seem to offer some protection against drug abuse and other ills, including poor school performance and delinquency.


The key words there, of course, are "seem" and "some." Does every young person on, say, their high-school debate or track teams avoid drugs? Absolutely not.

Again, if it's certainty you want, then preventing drug abuse is not the field for you, because it's not a part of human life that comes with guarantees.

But the team spirit, the camaraderie, the pride in one's school, the hard work leading up to the moments of intense joy (such as curtain calls in theater and key victories in sports)-these have to help build up kids' armor against the temptations of drugs, parents suspect.

So, too, would the heavy time commitments involved, and-importantly-the knowledge that getting caught taking illegal drugs would mean getting thrown off the team.

Ask any parent of a teen athlete, actor or musician, and you'll hear claims like the above. But are there facts to back up these parents' suspicions?

Yes. The effects aren't all in one direction: for example, a 2014 analysis in the journal Addictive Behaviors found that sport participation actually increases the odds of alcohol use.

But "sport participation ... (also) appears to be related to reduced illicit drug use, especially use of non-cannabis related drugs," the study concludes.

"Eighty percent of the studies found sport participation associated with decreased illicit drug use. ... Further investigation revealed that participation in sports reduced the risk of overall illicit drug use, but particularly during high school; suggesting that this may be a critical period to reduce or prevent the use of drugs through sport."


Here's more on that topic:

▇ Young people aged 12 to 17 who participated in extracurricular activities were less likely to have used alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs in the past month, according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

▇ Likewise, "according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center and published in the journal Academic Pediatrics, participation in extracurricular activities that include a coach or mentor figure for preadolescents aged 10 to 14 was correlated with lower rates of marijuana and alcohol consumption among that age range," the American Addiction Centers reported in 2014.

When money is tight, extracurriculars often are the first activities to get cut. At the very least, the above findings ought to make communities think twice about that approach, because those after-school activities likely are doing more good than residents know.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

Opinion by Thomas Dennis
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